- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

I may be a chef, but I found out many years ago that I’m no short-order cook.

In the early 1970s, newly arrived in the United States, I was working as a chef in Indianapolis. One weekend, I volunteered to take over the breakfast shift.

When I got an order for scrambled eggs, I cooked them the way I’d been taught in France. I stirred the beaten eggs almost constantly over low heat, until they formed soft, moist curds, almost like custard. Then I proudly transferred them from the pan to a heated plate.

Moments later, the waitress returned to the kitchen, still holding the plate. “The customer wants to know who taught you to make scrambled eggs,” she said.

I put the eggs back in a pan and cooked them until they were nice and dry. That was the last time I made breakfast there.

Thirty years later, I still feel sometimes like I’m fighting an uphill battle with scrambled eggs. I know it’s customary on this side of the Atlantic to cook them until they’re no longer moist. But please trust me: Scrambled eggs are so much more satisfying and delicious if you keep them soft and creamy. And don’t worry: They’ll still be completely hot and perfectly safe to eat, and will taste so much richer and more comforting. Think of them as a sort of savory breakfast custard. You wouldn’t want to eat a custard dessert that was cooked until it was dry and rubbery, would you?

This Easter Sunday, or for Mother’s Day or any weekend breakfast or brunch this springtime, how about celebrating the season by trying a new way to make scrambled eggs?

Success is easy. First, beat the eggs well with a whisk, so the whites and yolks are thoroughly combined and slightly frothy. Next, cook them in a heavy saute pan, which distributes heat evenly, over low heat. Finally, stir the eggs constantly with a whisk or rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and side of the pan, just until they are thick enough to spoon.

It’s that simple. Of course, such ease invites creativity. As you’ll see in the following recipe, you can add embellishments from smoked salmon, asparagus, shallots and cream; to all kinds of cheeses and herbs; to ham, bacon, or sausage. For a special occasion, I like to take the recipe one step further and present the eggs inside individual brioches, the classic French egg-and-butter bread, which you can find in many good bakeries.

Before you start getting fancy, however, try scrambling eggs this way with just some butter, salt and pepper, to get comfortable with the technique. I promise, after one taste, you’ll never go back to making breakfast like a short-order cook!

SCRAMBLED EGGS IN BABY BRIOCHES WITH SMOKED SALMON AND ASPARAGUS

Serves 4

4 small bakery-bought brioches

4 asparagus spears

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons minced shallots

4 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon

8 eggs

1/4 cup heavy cream

Freshly ground white pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

With a small serrated knife, cut off enough of the top of each brioche to enable you easily to scoop out most of the crumb inside, using a teaspoon and your fingertips, leaving a shell about 1/3 inch thick. Set aside the hollowed out brioches and their tops on a baking sheet.

Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Fill a mixing bowl with ice cubes and water. Snap off and discard the tough stem ends of the asparagus spears. With a sharp knife, cut off the tip of each spear and reserve. Cut the remainder of each spear at a 45-degree angle into pieces about 1/4 inch thick. Boil the asparagus tips and pieces until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes; then, drain them and immediately plunge the pieces into the ice water. Drain and set aside.

In a saute pan over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallots and saute them until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

With a sharp knife, cut the smoked salmon slices into thin strips. Set them aside.

Break the eggs into a mixing bowl. With a whisk, beat them until the whites and yolks are well mixed. Whisking continuously, pour in the cream. Season with a little pepper and stir in the sauteed shallots.

In a heavy saute pan over low heat, melt 4 teaspoons of the remaining butter. Add the egg mixture and cook, stirring and scraping constantly with a whisk or a rubber spatula, until the eggs begin to thicken to a custard-like consistency, about 5 minutes.

Put the brioches in the oven to warm.

Stir the salmon and the asparagus into the eggs, reserving the 4 asparagus tips. Continue to cook the eggs, stirring constantly, until they are thick but still soft and creamy, about 3 minutes more.

Remove the brioches from the oven and place each one on a warm serving plate. Divide up the egg mixture among the brioches, filling up each one. Garnish the top of the eggs with the asparagus tips and place the lids at a slight angle on top of each brioche. Serve immediately.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Also, chef Wolfgang Puck’s latest cookbook, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy, is now available in bookstores.)

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